BRITISH SCULPTOR and environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy approaches art as an ongoing process of working with place, weather and materials. His work is born of the moment, of making something out of whatever comes to hand, be it grass, stones or wood. Most of his pieces are ephemeral, yet he also builds enduring rock walls that shape the landscape as well as play off it.
While most of us aren’t artists like Goldsworthy, nor will we likely own one of his pieces, we can benefit from his realistic attitude toward art meant to live outdoors. He not only accepts decay but sees it as part of the beauty of the piece. There’s nothing precious about his works; some are built on beaches, meant to wash away with the outgoing tide. Yet they stir the heart, focus the eye and enhance the nature around them. What could be more precious than that?
In “Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature,” Goldsworthy speaks in poetic terms of the havoc wreaked by weather and the open air. “Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. . . When I leave it, the processes continue.”
Whenever I consider adding yet one more item to my garden, or visit a garden where the art cries out for attention, I remind myself that less is more. Surely at this time of year, when nature denuded is so deeply revealing, so achingly beautiful, we can see the power of simplicity. I’d guess that many visitors to the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park don’t even notice the Goldsworthy piece at the entrance. “Drawn Stone” is simply a long, meandering crack in the stone paving. It’s so subtle, yet evocative of San Francisco’s shifting tectonic plates.
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We Northwesterners have such an affinity for weather, especially when it’s crummy. How many of you sighed in relief when our overly long summer gave way to autumn rains? You’ll appreciate Goldsworthy’s emphasis on all kinds of atmospherics. “The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather — rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm — is that external space made visible,” he explains.
The art of gardening involves playing with scale, from the height and breadth of our native conifers to minute mosses and tidy little primroses. Art in the garden is at its most engaging when it’s so small you need to search for it, or so out of scale it changes your perspective.
Goldsworthy’s creativity might inspire us to get outdoors and shape our own art from what we find around us in the garden. Studying his work will surely help us place art in sympathy with nature, as well as to appreciate the patina that develops as weather and time have their way. Aspiring garden artists and art collectors can be comforted by Goldsworthy’s summation of his work:
“At its most successful, my ‘touch’ looks into the heart of nature; most days I don’t even get close.”
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Reach her at email@example.com.